Germany — Shopping and Leisure
Germany has great shopping options and international visitors should make use of the VAT-refund system. Sales tax in Germany is 19 percent, so getting that whole amount back is a big deal. The system is simple: simply fill out a form at any shop which displays the VAT-refund sign, get the form stamped at customs at the airport, and receive your refund in cash after passing through immigration.
North American visitors in particular should take note that shops are not open 24 hours and most shops in Germany are actually closed on Sunday. In the cities, stores are generally open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., with some not opening until 8:00 p.m. on select nights. Shop hours on Saturday vary, but are generally from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. though some may close at 1:00 p.m..
Generally, shopping does not take place at malls, but on main shopping streets in the cities. Malls are generally located in the suburbs and take away from the downtown experience. In Frankfurt, visitors should head to the Zeil, which is a pedestrian street lined with local and brand name shops on either side. In Berlin, the main shopping street is the famous Kurfürstendamm, with the beautiful KaDeWe department store. In Munich, it is the Maximilianstrasse.
Popular German souvenirs are primarily handmade cuckoo clocks, beer steins, and Christmas decorations. Look for Erzgebirge handicrafts for the best Christmas decorations and wooden ornaments. Toys are also a popular gift from Germany and famous German toys makers include: Haba (wooden toys), Playmobil (plastic figurines and structures), Fischer Technik (engineering kits), Steiff (stuffed animals), Ravensburger (puzzles and games), and Sigikid (plush toys). Food souvenirs are, of course, also popular, such as German wines, sausages, hams, Schnapps, and bread. However, visitors should check the customs regulations for their country prior to purchasing any meat products.